To Fish or Not to Fish: Small-Scale Fishing and Changing Regulations of the Cod Fishery in Northern Norway

By Maurstad, Anita | Human Organization, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

To Fish or Not to Fish: Small-Scale Fishing and Changing Regulations of the Cod Fishery in Northern Norway


Maurstad, Anita, Human Organization


Quotas and access limitations were introduced to Norway in 1990 to secure future cod fisheries. Comparison of small-scale fishers' practices before and after 1990 pose interesting questions concerning the models for resource management on which these regulations are based. Prior to the regulations, exploitation and expansion inherent in the small-scale production were curtailed informally. Instead of limiting economic expansion, the introduction of formal bureaucratic regulations provided fishers' incentives to expand. I explain the unforeseen outcomes of the new fisheries policy by reference to small-scale productive capacity in prevailing resource-management theories and practices. In the case of Norwegian small-boat fisheries, defining capacity by technical measures alone overlooks two important factors: 1 ) variation within that technological category of fisheries; and 2) social incentives and constraints on technology in use. Focusing on small-boat fishing productive logic, the article addresses the need to integrate a more qualitatively oriented concept like "capacity in use," which relates actual fishing behavior to resource-management theories and practices.

Key words: fisheries management, fishing behavior, small-boat fishing, North Norway, household production

Introduction

Modern management of fisheries is not a successful venture. FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1995), reports that on a global basis, over 70 percent of the fish stocks are fully to overexploited. A large body of literature is critical of models' of fisheries management. Wilson et al. (1994) point to biological model's crucial dependence on empirical factors for which it is hard to attain precise knowledge. The marine environment is complex, and Wilson et al. see a qualitative, decentralized approach, focusing on the fishery and how fish are caught, rather than how many, as a superior way of accounting for successful resource management.

Human activity is no less complex than fish activity. But contrary to fish, fishers live their entire life in an environment accessible to researchers. It is therefore a paradox that little knowledge of this complex human activity is implemented in resource-management models. Prevailing theories on resource management still view the fishers in terms of the famous tragedy of the commons model (Hardin 1968): human greed, and/or lack of opportunities to act otherwise, leaves fishers with one alternative-to catch as many fish as possible. Their only constraint is the system's natural resources. This view of fishers' harvesting has repercussions for policy formulations. Human technical capacity becomes an index of their productive capacity, and fishing capacity becomes predictable. It can be measured by counting fishers, vessels, or gear in use. Furthermore, if the calculation reveals that the number of fishers cannot be sustained by the natural resources available, overcapacity is defined as the problem, and reducing the number of fishers is the solution.

Challenging such a simplistic understanding of fishing behavior, I will present a counterargument based on studies of North Norway's small-scale fishers. By "small scale" I refer to fishers using boats under 13 meters in size. I will present their practice in further detail to argue that Norwegian fishers' technical means are erroneous indices of their productive capacity. A new fisheries policy was introduced in 1990. Fishers were regulated as if they operated on the brink of their technical capacity. Failing to incorporate variation in fishing techniques and in material and social needs of fishers and their families, the new policy had the paradoxical consequence of increasing fishing effort by many small-scale fishers. Focusing on such unforeseen effects of bureaucratic regulations, I will use the notion of "capacity in use" as an expression for actual fishing behavior and stress its opposition to the understanding of capacity expressed in fisheries policies. …

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